3 (On the social obligations and charitable activities of business)

Different people have very different ideas about the general social obligations of business.

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On the one side, Milton Friedman argued that the most important social obligation of business was simply to be profitable. He maintained that all other goals had to be considered secondary. As Friedman saw it, businesses are set up specifically by their owners to achieve business goals which cannot be achieved without profits. A business that loses money cannot meet its obligations to its owners, to its employees, or even to the government in terms of taxes. While Friedman felt that philanthropy and social goals were fine for businesses, he argued that those could never be achieved anyway unless the business was first profitable. On the other side, some proponents of the stakeholder view of business argue that businesses have equal obligations to all stakeholders, including bystanders and society at large, and thus that profits should not be the primary goal of business.

Those kinds of underlying differences in attitudes towards the social obligations of business notwithstanding, it is certainly true that many businesses see the prepping up of their social reputations as an important aspect of their marketing strategies. Touting specific charities and other forms of philanthropy, espousing environmental concerns, or supporting social outreach programs can affect good will and sales. Thus, the businesses who most promote their philanthropy and social responsibilities may also just be trying to maximize their profits using all the tools at their disposal. Indeed, it seems that the businesses who are the most likely to be affected by their social reputations are often also the ones most likely to tout their social responsibilities.

In this context,  is first to identify some specific recent business philanthropic and social endeavors (including charity support, environmental actions, social outreach and/or community support, etc.)  Next, your task is to carefully consider the full motivations of these efforts and their likely impact on the bottom line for the businesses in question and for society at large.

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